EPISODE 38: Willpower is the wrong tool

May 31, 2020

Artwork for podcast Overcome Pornography: The Self Mastery Podcast

Every time I meet with a client I hear something along these lines. 

I try to stop but I just can’t – I have been fighting through this my whole life – My whole world is burning down because of this addiction. 

I am keeping it at bay, but I want to be free from this.

This is the place most of us go to when we try to stop a habit in our lives.  

Most of us try to use willpower to change our habits

In fact, I get comments like this on my Facebook page all the time. 

They say things like, “just stop it” 

Maybe you’ve heard something similar from a friend, spouse, bishop

This kind of language is the language of going into battle.  

It is that keeping it at bay and believing you could lose everything as another client put it that is hindering your progress

That is not going to get you all the way there.  

So many of us have put our fullest attentions and greatest efforts into quitting pornography only to be drawn back into it after a period of sober living. 

That is because we used willpower to fight what has become our most difficult habit.

Willpower is a recipe for short gains, long term struggle because willpower is a trap, great book “change anything” talks about this in depth .

It talks about how we may have half a dozen things influencing us to continue a habit while employing just one strategy to negate it.

The book also demonstrates that it is not about some innate ability or capacity that makes us stronger than our friends or peers. 

“…people (often) believe that their ability to make good choices stems from nothing more than their willpower – and that their willpower is a quality they’re born with or they’re not – they eventually stop trying altogether.  The willpower trap keeps them in a depressing cycle that begins with heroic commitment to change which is followed by eroding motivation and terminated inevitably by relapse into old habits. Then, when the built-up pain of their habits becomes intolerable, they muster up another heroic but doomed attempt at change.”

Willpower is what we think we lack when we tell ourselves that we just didn’t want to quit bad enough

Willpower can only take you so far because your brain is not designed to use willpower for lasting change.  

Willpower is strictly a short term tool

The problem with willpower is that it is a power of struggle.  

When we use willpower we are simply fighting, battling out against the one person we can’t beat, ourselves. 

There is this new will smith film called Gemini man where I think that is essentially the premise of the film.  

That resistance, that battle, that warrior mentality, it is costly in terms of energy. 

In change anything, the premise of the book is that you can change anything you want in your life, if you have the right skills. 

In my individual coaching sessions I teach people a lot of skills. The webinars I do, are about teaching people skills. 

Today I’m going to teach you the first of three essential skills that I will be teaching live on June 17.  If you are interested in attending that, please go to my website, and click on free coaching call. That will take you to a zoom registration page where you will get all the info you need to join the call. 

If you want to stop using pornography, you need to know how to do these three things. I only have time for the first today, but this skill alone will make a huge difference in your life. 

One of the most important skills you can learn is how to say, “no” to your urges to go down the rabbit hole.  

Think about how you say no, when you really mean it.

Especially with something that might frustrate you.  

If someone is repeatedly trying to get you to do something that you don’t like, you say, “NO!” 

There is abruptness, there is a clenching, there is a tightening against the thing you’re saying no to. 

That doesn’t feel good. 

Saying no doesn’t have to be a battle. 

I like the phrase, I can, but I choose not to. 

How different that is and feels makes a big difference. 

This takes practice. 

This is not the language that we use when we are fighting our pornography use. 

We use battle language. 

We fight because we think it has power, 

But urges don’t have power

Let me explain how your urges don’t have power. 

They don’t have a force of their own.

Food is a really good way to analogize to pornography because, unlike drugs or alcohol, food and human sexuality are innate. They are with us from the beginning and the process is one of understanding how to properly regulate the flow and usage of the two, rather than avoiding it altogether. 

So if you think of your favorite food.  One of the things that I am not sure I could live without in this life is rootbeer floats.  I am very good at them.  I make amazing floats, I drink amazing floats, I never say no to a rootbeer float that shows up in my life. 

If you want to poison me or drug me, hand me a rootbeer float. 

I have tasted all the types of rootbeer I have come across. And I know which types of rootbeer go best with which types of icecream.  

But here is the thing, my urge to drink a rootbeer float has no power the same way my urge to use pornography has no power. 

I use this analogy in my coaching, which I heard from another coach.  I ask, “When you have the urge to drink a rootbeer float, what do you have to do to get it?”

Sometimes, they will say, I just have to go drink one.

Then I say, is that it, is that the only step here?

Then we go to the very first step. 

First you have to get up from where you are. Then, assuming you have what you need in the house, you have to go to the kitchen and get a glass.  Then you have to get a spoon.  Then you have to go to where the rootbeer is and get that.  Then you have to go to where the ice cream scoop is and get that.  Then you have to go to the freezer, which for us is in the basement.  So, go down the stairs, open the freezer, get the ice cream and go back up the stairs.  

Then I usually ask, So now you have everything all in one place, have you had your rootbeer float?

The answer is no. 

So, I say, ok, now what do you do?

Then they say, Well, I scoop some ice cream into the cup. Then I open the rootbeer and pour some into the cup as well.  I like my rootbeer blended into the ice cream so then I pick up the spoon and stir the two together. 

Have you drunk the rootbeer float yet? No!

What’s next?  Well then I pick up the cup and I bring it to my mouth.  

Still haven’t drunk the float yet. 

Then I pour my first mouthful into my mouth, still not drunk yet. 

Now I am an enjoyer of RBF so, I savor it in my mouth for a moment or two. Then finally I swallow. 

Do you see how many steps there were?

Do you see how all along the way, there were a dozen or more moments, points of consent to the urge?

At any moment there was the possibility of saying no. Stopping the process, all the way up to the moment that I had the float in my mouth and before I swallowed, I could have spit that out and said no.  

In the long run you can’t just rely on willpower.  How many of you watching this have resisted and white knuckled it until you couldn’t any more?  We all have if we have had some decent period of sobriety without these new techniques I’m going to teach you. 

This is the process of teaching your brain to be curious about what’s happening in your body and in your brain to understand those urges and help your brain see them as unnecessary.  

Your lower brain thinks pornography is necessary.  That lower brain of yours tells you that this is pleasurable and its going to help you avoid the pain of this moment and that the cost is so low as to be negligible and all of that means that this activity will keep you alive.  

But it isn’t going to keep you alive.  Pornography isn’t necessary for your survival.  Even if your lower brain pretends it is. 

So is it a problem that you have an urge to view pornography or to escape your feelings because you are lonely or frustrated or upset or even that you are aroused?  No.  

The problem comes when you say no to the urge. 

In that moment is the moment we usually go to battle.  

So, instead of going to battle, and clenching and being abrupt and fighting the urge, I simply say, I can but I choose not to. 

Which is my favorite way of saying no, 

Because it accepts my agency and owns the agency that I have, but it also declines the invitation.  

Saying no doesn’t have to be a battle.  To be successful at overcoming pornography use, taking your brain away from willpower and struggle and bringing it to calm and reason yields a result that is so much more successful. 

The skill here is learning to say no, without the angst, without the fight, without the battle. 

Like when your daughter asks if she can drive the car.  You wouldn’t get upset, you would just say “no, honey, 4 year olds aren’t allowed to drive cars.”

That is the same feeling you would bring to this no.  Love and understanding for the person you are and why that urge might be interesting. 

The skill to stop and say no is one that can be the beginning of your personal empowerment in the process of deconditioning the urges and habits that have been holding you back from becoming the person you want to be. 

It is the perfect replacement for all that willpower you’ve been using to fight with yourself in a never ending battle of strength that you can never win.  

Overcoming pornography use isn’t about willpower. It is about finding the right tools and becoming proficient practitioners of the craft of self mastery.  

Come to my free webinar on June 17 at 8 central 7 mountain, I’ll be teaching this skill and the two other skills you need to eliminate the urges you have to use pornography.

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